Gov. Kate Brown's campaign sent out a press release Sept. 10 declaring that a hate group had endorsed her opponent in the November general election, state Rep. Knute Buehler (R-Bend), and that the Republican candidate had silently accepted the backing.
"Oregonians for Immigration Reform (OFIR), the most prominent anti-immigrant hate group in Oregon, endorsed Republican Knute Buehler on Thursday," the campaign said in a press release.
That claim quickly spread on social media. Activists from the Oregon League of Conservation Voters, Basic Rights Oreogon, SEIU Local 503, as well as the Democratic Party of Oregon, shared the claim that the Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which backs a ballot measure that would repeal the state's 31-year-old sanctuary law, had endorsed Buehler. The Brown campaign called on Buehler to reject the endorsement and renounce OFIR.
But OFIR did not actually endorse Buehler's campaign for governor.
When WW contacted the group to confirm its endorsement of Buehler, the group's president, Cynthia Kendoll, said the Brown campaign's claim was "not true."
She says the organization will not endorse in the governor's race.
And Buehler's campaign says he wasn't endorsed by OFIR—and would reject the endorsement if it were offered.
"Knute has neither sought nor would he accept the endorsement of this organization," Buehler's campaign said in a statement responding to WW's questions about the alleged endorsement. "Unfortunately Gov. Brown has a history of lies and smears about Knute's record."
When asked why the campaign said OFIR had endorsed Buehler when it had not, a spokesman for Brown's campaign said the press release referred to informal and implied endorsements of his legislative record and policy positions in comments made by Kendoll to OPB and by OFIR in social media posts.
"A hate group is saying that Buehler shares their values and it's no surprise given that he supports the ballot measure," says Christian Gaston, a Brown campaign spokesman.
The effort to tie Buehler to OFIR is part of a struggle to define the Republican candidate. Buehler wants to be seen as a moderate; the Democrats want to portray him as an extremist—and his support for Measure 105 offers an opening to do so.
OFIR has been called a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for its anti-immigrant rhetoric. The group supports Measure 105, the sanctuary-law repeal which Buehler has also said he supports.
Buehler waffled on his position on Oregon's sanctuary policies in a recent interview with OPB. He told the radio station that he supports the policy which bars local resources from being used to enforce federal immigration regulations, but he still wants to repeal the sanctuary law that enshrines that policy because there is "confusion" about the statute.